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Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

4.00 | 1329 ratings

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4 stars Porcupine Tree have always been a bit of an oddity in the progressive rock world. Sure, they've experimented with many other genres to date, but not many bands in the musical style can lay claim to such an accessible and inviting sound in the process. Of course their 90s work is a bit more obscure and inaccessible because of Steven Wilson's psychedelic offerings, but with Signify, the band hit a turning point. A more band-oriented approach was taken, a more streamlined style was introduced (although still psychedelic, mind you), and the the switch in sounds was quite surprising to the fans of Porcupine Tree's more sprawling early work. And then if that wasn't enough, Stupid Dream was released.

Stupid Dream is basically Wilson's first foray into more commercial pop and alternative rock music, complete with shorter songs and much cleaner musical arrangements. The instrumental work is incredibly tight and crisp, but many of the songs are much more uplifting in tone (especially "Stranger by the Minute" and "Piano Lessons") despite some very depressing lyrical themes. Traces of the old Porcupine Tree sound are definitely present, especially in longer tracks such as "Tinto Brass" and "Don't Hate Me," but I really enjoy the balance presented here between alternative rock and hints of progressive rock; other than the band's next offering Lightbulb Sun, this mix can't really be heard as prominently as in other releases by the band. The lyrics also happen to be a strength of the record despite Wilson's unfortunate track record of having consistently weak lyrical work in other records, ranging from subjects such as survival ("A Smart Kid"), tragedy ("This is No Rehearsal"), complacency ("Stop Swimming"), and multiple other subjects throughout the experience. Interestingly enough, however, the atmosphere of the record usually remains pretty sunny and light, making the whole thing a comfortable entry for newcomers to progressive rock music in general. However, just as with most Porcupine Tree albums, there are still many complexities and inner-workings that serve to make Stupid Dream a compelling listen; Richard Barbieri in particular has wonderfully layered keyboard work that melds wonderfully with Wilson's melodic guitar lines. The production is also a strong reason for this, being exceptionally lush while highlighting every instrument perfectly; it's clean, but has enough edge during the heavier and more distorted moments.

The album is essentially split between what you would call the "singles" in structure and style, and the more sprawling progressive tracks such as the aforementioned "Don't Hate Me" and "Tinto Brass," much like Lightbulb Sun that came after it. "Piano Lessons" is pretty much the most accessible and fun track on here, with an incredibly poppy piano arrangement and Steven Wilson's melodic vocal work, while "Stranger by the Minute" and "This is No Rehearsal" follow suit (despite the depressing subject matter of the latter). On the more complex side, "Don't Hate Me" and "Even Less" are fantastic numbers with a ton of instrumental buildup to their melancholic songwriting. In fact, "Don't Hate Me" even has a killer saxophone solo and lots of jazz elements during the middle portion! "Tinto Brass," on the other hand, is less impressive; it basically sounds like meandering left-overs from the Signify album and doesn't fit the atmosphere of the album very well. "Baby Dream in Cellophane" is also quite weak, being one of the blander ballads in Porcupine Tree's catalog despite combining both depressing and uplifting moments pretty decently. Despite this, the thing that perhaps solidifies Stupid Dream as one of Porcupine Tree's stronger records is that, even with the catchy alternative portions, the album doesn't sound complacent or lazy when viewed as a successor to Signify... it merely comes off as a logical progression. "A Smart Kid" is probably the best way to view the evolution, as it is perhaps the most beautiful tune in Steven Wilson's entire discography; the acoustic portions are wonderfully minimalistic, and the catharsis reached by the more climactic chorus is truly a sound to behold because of the layered instrumentation and Wilson's emotive vocals.

Stupid Dream is pretty much the definition of a transitional record (along with Signify), but it's a damn good transitional record. The balance between emotion, accessibility and complexity, which is key to the Porcupine Tree formula, was pretty much in full effect by this point and the experience is quite satisfying as a result. I wouldn't say it reaches the heights of some of the band's subsequent releases such as Lightbulb Sun or In Absentia, but the leaps and bounds of Stupid Dream were pretty much instrumental in leading up to those albums, so I can't pick on it too much. Not when the music is this good, anyway.

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)

Necrotica | 4/5 |


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